Unionists hit out at Sinn Fein ‘behaviour’ at Tour of the North

UNIONIST politicians have hit out at the behaviour of Sinn Fein members Gerry Kelly and Caral NiCuilin at the ‘Tour of the North’ parade on Friday night.

The Culture Minister was taken to hospital after the incident on Friday, but was discharged later that night.

Sinn Fein said she was hit by a Land Rover as she tried to help her party colleague Gerry Kelly.

He was carried on the front of the vehicle for a short distance.

Mr Kelly said he tried to stop the Land Rover in order to speak to officers who had arrested a 16-year-old, but claimed the officer drove off, with Mr Kelly clinging to the front of the PSNI vehicle.

The Police Ombudsman is investigating the incident.

However DUP MLA Jonathan Craig has questioned how their behaviour fitted the standards expected of them not just as MLA’s but as a Policing Board member and an Executive Minister.

The Lagan Valley MLA said: “The behaviour of two Sinn Fein members, including one Minister in the Executive was completely unacceptable. The parade passed off peacefully with exemplary behaviour on the part of participants. There was an attempt however by republicans to attack the parade which can only have been motivated by bigotry. It is disappointing that rather than condemn such behaviour Sinn Fein seemed to defend it.”

He added: “The Policing Board holds the Police to account for their actions, but it is absolutely unacceptable for any member to attempt to direct or obstruct the Police in the execution of their duties.

“I will be raising this issue at the Policing Board and also examining fully whether Mr Kelly’s actions are in line with the Code of Conduct for members.”

The leader of the Traditional Unionist Voice, Jim Allister, said: “Weekend events when Gerry Kelly, in particular, sought to decide who should and shouldn’t be arrested in north Belfast, and his resulting obstruction of the police and apparent control of a mob attacking police property, raises serious questions about Sinn Fein’s supposed commitment to the rule of law.

“I think on Friday night, the Sinn Fein mask on policing slipped and we saw just how conditional their supposed support for policing is.”

He said he will also be calling for PSNI Chief Constable Matt Baggott to investigate Sinn Fein’s video of the incident.

“I will be inviting the Chief Constable to investigate the Sinn Fein video of the attack on the police landrover and look forward to the photographs of those involved being published for identification purposes, as would happen with a loyalist flag protest.”

UUP MLA Roy Beggs has called for the Police and the Public Prosecution Service to ensure that Gerry Kelly is subjected to the same rigours of the law “as he sought for all other citizens when he obstructed a police land drover in a dangerous situation”.

The East Antrim MLA said: “What would happen if you or I obstructed the passage of a police vehicle? What would happen if a flag protestor obstructed the passage of a police vehicle?

“There is a particular requirement for community representatives to act responsibly in tense situations where riot police have been deployed and when violent behaviour has occurred.”

Mr Beggs said that in “choosing to obstruct a police vehicle when an arrest had occurred, Gerry Kelly allowed the crowd to intimidate and attack the police vehicle”.

He added: “This could have caused the situation to escalate. We are extremely fortunate that no one was severely injured as a result of Mr Kelly’s actions in obstructing the path of a police vehicle. He should be accountable to the law for his irresponsible behaviour. Sinn Fein has to understand that they cannot pick and choose when the law applies”

Meanwhile SDLP spokesman for policing, Conall McDevitt MLA has appealed to fellow politicians to avoid engaging in a tit for tat debate about policing and parades this summer.

He said: “ The policing of the Tour of The North in the Carrick Hill and Peter HIll areas of Belfast have left many people annoyed. My own party has expressed deep concern about aspects of the police operation directly to very senior officers and we will continue to do so through the Policing Board. We welcome the immediate referral of the incident involving Gerry Kelly MLA to the Police Ombudsman for independent investigation.

“We all need to show leadership and step back from seeking selfish partisan gain from parading or specific incidents. That means as the Cardiff Statement says respecting the PSNI’s duty to uphold the rule of law at the same time as holding them robustly to account through the Northern Ireland Policing Board.”

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